Nook of Naples: Some claim it's art, others say it's vandalism. What we do know is that in Pompeii, some of the best information we have about the daily life of ancient Romans comes from graffiti. So whatever graffiti is -- it lasts. And it tells a story about what Neapolitans find important today.
A visit to Pompeii reveals graffiti such as magic spells, declarations of love, and political slogans. At the gladiator academy the graffiti boasts: "Celadus the Thracian makes the girls sigh." One inscription gives the address of a prostitute, Novellia Primigenia, known for her great beauty.
In World War II when Neapolitans escaped the bombings by hiding in the underground, they scratched prolific amounts of graffiti into the tufo stone. Still today visitors to the underground can see what adults feared and cared about during those crisis days through their pictures on the walls.
But graffiti as modern art form gained popularity during the 1960s and 1970s in New York City when gang members and political activists spray-painted subway cars. They then extended their markings throughout the city. Within a decade, the well-known Jean-Michel Basquiat went from grafitti artist, with a tag of SAMO, to having his works displayed in New York art galleries.
Today, Italian graffiti artists are heavily influenced by the movement in New York City, most often marking up subway cars. At least some Italians take this art form seriously. In 1979, for example, graffiti artist Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy were given a gallery opening in Rome by art dealer Claudio Bruni.
Experimentation continues to this day and Naples is no exception. On Via Bagnoli, a stretch of walls are left untouched by police and city officials, allowing graffiti artists to reign free. They display brightly colored images using spray paint and stencils.
We arrive along a road where parking is easily available. Not too many people seem to stop in this gritty part of downtown Naples. Once we get out of the car and walk, we have to keep our eyes to the pavement. Doggie poop, broken glass and trash litters the sidewalk. But when we stop and look up, Neapolitan graffiti stretches for over a kilometer in panels along the concrete walls.
The most prolific artist here tags himself as 'Iabo'. The pictures tell of a group of people who appreciate internationalism. Here are some of the stenciled words:
Tutti sordi per i soldi (Everyone deaf for money.)
Where is Respect?
Arrivano i nostri (Loosely: "Where we came from." A reference to the theory of evolution.)
Reduci di Pace ("Return of Peace." A dead man is depicted next to the words.)
Libbberta (Liberty, spelled with three b's.)
Amore amaro amare (Love, bitter, to be in love)
Progettare in fondo e il miglior modo per evitare (To plan deeply is the best way of avoidance)
A little love lost, a little politics, and an unpleasant smell makes this Naples destination an off-the-beaten, but trod-carefully path.
Getting There: Via Bagnoli. Take the Fuorigrotto exit, pay the toll and bear left through two underpasses. When you reach the stadium (behind you), go straight ahead until the last street and make a right. The graffitti on Via Bagnoli begins about five kilometers down, straight ahead.
Book Recommendation: Graffiti Writing: Origini, Significati, Tecniche e Protagonisti in Italia by Alessandro Mininno. About Italian Graffiti in general, I found this Italian language book at the Capodimonte Museum. The author focuses on influences from New York City and the book presents a wealth of photographs, particularly of box-car graffiti.